Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Tegu: Toys to Change a Nation – Social Entrepreneurs – Chris & Will Haughey

In 2006, if a person had told Chris and Will Haughey that they would be co-founders of a socially responsible wooden toy company in just 4 short years, they never would have believed it. But here we are in 2010 and that is exactly what has occurred. The Haughey brothers are the founders of Tegu, a magnetic wooden block company formed to help support the struggling nation of Honduras. Both left their careers in order to build a for-profit business formed to help support Honduran social initiatives.

The story behind Tegu began in 2006 when, after returning from a mission trip to Honduras, Chris emailed Will, stating the question, “Could we create a for-profit company that would foster positive social impact in Honduras through its business?” This simple email was all that the Haughey brothers needed to jump-start the creation of Tegu, founded to address unemployment, neglected natural and human resources, and the need for entrepreneurship in Honduras.

The company began with the notion that Chris and Will wanted to help a country and its people, and they quickly discovered that Honduras was home to beautiful tropical hardwoods which could be sustainably harvested. But the pair was still fairly uncertain exactly what their new venture was going to produce. Luckily, the product brainstorming period coincided with a brotherly bonding trip to Germany where the boys marveled at the quality and longevity of European-built toys, an area where the American toy market was lacking. Thus, it was decided that Tegu would produce innovative magnetic wooden building blocks, worlds apart from the old-fashioned building block.

The creation of Tegu did not come without risk and a fair share of sacrifices. The Haughey brothers were successful in their previous careers, but would they ever be able to run a start-up on top of their day jobs? No. When Chris made the leap and left corporate America in March of 2007, Will shortly followed and the duo invested their full time into the research and development of a business. With the need for direct management over the manufacturing process, Chris made the move to Tegucigalpa to head up Tegu Honduras in April 2009 while Will spends his time in Connecticut with a dedicated team working to run Tegu finance and marketing.

The Tegu Effect:

At Tegu, the toy creation process begins with the users themselves – kids. The product idea for Tegu was cemented while observing a kindergarten classroom and witnessing the lengths kids took to express their imaginations. The main goal of Tegu is to harness the natural creativity of children and continue producing fun and inspiring toys. After the prototype process, Tegu Honduras slowly began to take the reins and now, all Tegu wooden products are manufactured in Honduras, by Hondurans.

The Tegu product is not your average wooden play toy. Tegu blocks incorporate embedded, hidden magnets for a new play experience. The Tegu team likes to joke that these blocks are gravity defying (but actually, they truly are!). The blocks themselves are made of durable, sustainably harvested Honduran wood. The magnetic twist on the classic wooden block opens up a realm of possibilities in creative design, something that Tegu truly prides itself on. Tegu blocks have no instructions or guidelines as the power of open-ended and unscripted play has the ability to stimulate a child’s mental growth, imaginative capacity, and physical dexterity.

Helping Honduras:

Upon the creation of Tegu, the Haughey brothers realized that they had the power to help, rather than hurt, the nation of Honduras. It is estimated that Honduras lost 10% of its forest cover in the 1990’s. For this reason, each tree used for Tegu products is handpicked by workers in local Honduran tree cooperatives. Currently, Tegu is replanting 100 tree saplings for every 1 tree used with their replanting program as Tegu is dedicated to the expansion of sustainable forestry.

The loss of the forest is not the only issue that calls for attention in Honduras. Approximately one half of the 7.5 million Hondurans live beneath the poverty line, struggling to provide the basic needs of life to themselves and their families. Tegu has confidence in the people of Honduras and has purposefully chosen to manufacture there with the specific goal of building industry and creating career opportunities for Honduran workers. By paying a living wage and prioritizing long-term employee growth and development, Tegu is working to bring world-class employment standards to Central America.

With many Hondurans working to merely survive on a day-to-day basis, education takes a back seat. Young children are found working in trash dumps searching for scraps of rubber or aluminum that they could possibly sell for a couple of cents. In addition to environmental initiatives, Tegu has partnered with a local school in order to help provide education for Honduran children. An educated Honduras is an elevated Honduras, and Tegu is working to make a true difference in the lives of young Hondurans.

In order to further support Honduran social initiatives, Tegu has configured a unique way to get each and every customer involved in the support of Honduras. Every time a Tegu toy is sold, a positive chain of events is set in motion; it doesn’t just end with a happy child flexing his or her imagination. With each purchase, Tegu provides every buyer a choice to either plant a dozen trees or to send a Honduran child to school for a day, as part of the purchase. But it’s not only the environment and children that benefit. As Tegu grows, they are looking to add jobs at their factory in Honduras where they aspire to one day be the employer of choice. With Tegu, a great product will hopefully prove to be the catalyst for great change in Honduras.

Past, Present and Future of Tegu:

When Tegu launched in September 2009, the product proved to be so popular that they were not able to keep up with the number of orders. A feature on NBC’s Today Show in January 2010 increased the waiting list to over 2,000 potential customers. By April 2010, Tegu had refilled its inventory and re-launched its product.

What is currently occupying Tegu? The Honduras factory is now a smooth and productive operator, opening up the possibility for new products created based off of the wants of customers and refined by a talented Tegu team of design and marketing professionals. Tegu continues to strongly support Honduran social initiatives, but this is only achievable with profitable success of the business. With the holiday season approaching, Tegu is gearing up for sales and hoping to become “THE” toy for the holiday season. The past four years have resulted in a revamped life for the Haughey brothers. However, it has proved to be worth it as young kids (and the young at heart) are mesmerized by the magnetic quality of these fun wooden blocks and their ability to help Hondurans in need.

Looking to the future, the Tegu team sees expanded growth of their company and an increase in brand loyalty to Tegu products. In a time-span of less than a year, Tegu has donated 893 days of school to Honduran children and helped to plant 5,451 trees in Honduran forests, with the numbers in both categories growing with each and every purchase. Through media efforts and the spread of its retail partners, Tegu hopes to show the quality and workmanship of their product while inspiring customers (and hopefully future social entrepreneurs!). It is safe to say that these products are truly toys to change a nation.

Maria Gardell
+1 203.803.1908

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